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Exodus 2:1-15: Spectacular Failures

Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well.

English Standard Version


Moses was a phenomenal man of God, strong in his faith, and faithful and persuasive in leading the Hebrew people under God’s leadership. As a sign of Moses’ significance as an obedient servant of God, read in Matthew 17 that at the Transfiguration, Jesus talked with Moses, as well as with Elijah, on top of a high mountain.

But the characters in the Bible were human, too, and Moses’ life is full of reminders that he wasn’t so different from you and me. Consider the account in this meditation’s scripture passage about the beginning of Moses’ life:

When Moses was born, the Hebrew people were living in Egypt, as slaves of the Egyptians. Their birth rate was so high, the Egyptians feared they would become too numerous and stage a revolution, so the Pharaoh decreed that the male Hebrew infants should be killed. Moses’ mother tried everything she could to avoid death for her baby. After she had hidden the child for as long as she could, she in divine inspiration put the baby in the river in a basket. This appears to be an act of desperation, choosing death by starvation or wild animals for her son rather than execution by the Egyptian soldiers. (Then again, if his mother had expected something terrible to happen, his sister would have not been assigned to watch!) God worked wonders, in that one of the Pharaoh’s daughters happened to come by at that time, find the infant, and fall in love with him. With that miracle, God brought about the way for the savior of the Hebrew people to be spared from death and trained in the best schools of the day for his later task of leading the Hebrew people!

But Moses threw it all away: his access to powerful people, his privileges as a member of the royal family, his wealth, even his reputation. He acted deceitfully, as we see in the scriptures’ account that he looked both ways to see if anyone was watching before he killed an Egyptian. He probably thought himself a hero for his action, but the next day, he found out the Hebrew slaves didn’t see it that way at all. He also found out his “secret” was not a secret, and he ran for his life.

Moses must have been certain that his story would end in ignominy. He had messed up so badly that he had to abandon all the opportunities God had given to him. There was nothing he could do in Midian but start over again as a poor wandering laborer.

We all have felt that way at some point in our lives to at least some degree. Situations blocked us from opportunities we craved, and sometimes we might discern that we brought those situations on ourselves. Whatever the combination of our ignorance, our arrogance, and our sin, we threw away what we had been given, and we had no one else to blame.

But we know the rest of Moses’ story, too: the burning bush, the plagues on the Egyptians, the parting of the Red Sea, the pillars of fire and smoke representing God’s presence, the ten commandments on stone tablets, and taking care of the nation as they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Just as God had saved the infant Moses from extermination, God saved the calling of Moses as the leader of the Hebrews from his spectacular failure. How astonishing for God to use a murderer to save the Hebrew people!

God is still in the business of cleaning up our messes, of turning our failures into God’s victories. It usually isn’t until we give up hope in our ability to fix our situations that we allow God to work, and this story assures us that no situation is too desperate for God to resolve. Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:26, “with God all things are possible.”


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotation information.

Copyright © 2014 Jonathan Morris
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